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Is the shadow tablet market as big as we're told?

We all know about Apple's iPad. Certain heavily marketed Android-based tablets like Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire are moving towards household-name status as well.

But there's a whole world of off-brand tablets out there that few Western consumers know about. And it's bigger than even those who do probably think it is, according to DigiTimes. The Taiwanese tech journal reported this week that industry sources are projecting global shipments of "white box" tablets running Google's Android mobile operating system to hit 40 million in 2012.

Some quick maths tells you that this figure is approaching 70 per cent of the pace Apple is on for total iPad sales this year (adding together Apple's reported iPad sales figures for its first two quarters and multiplying that number by two puts the company's projected 2012 iPad sales at roughly 58 million). If accurate, this means the off-brand tablets being sold in China, India, Thailand, and emerging Latin American markets are a pretty big deal—probably even bigger than all of the currently shipping non-Apple name brand tablets combined.

The DigiTimes report also makes you wonder if something is missing from the reports by research firms which track global tablet market share. Strategy Analytics on Wednesday stated that Apple owned a 68 per cent share of the tablet market in the second quarter, matching the 68 per cent first-quarter share the company enjoyed, as reported by IDC back in May.

Are those researchers counting the white-box tablet makers in their calculations of market share? If so, somebody's numbers simply aren't adding up.

Without even counting own-brand tablet vendors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Asus, and Samsung, or tablets running operating systems other than iOS or Android—just pitting the iPad against the white-box tablets, in other words—and the first-half market-share breakdown looks like this: Apple with 62 per cent and off-brand tablet makers with 38 percent.

Now let's be honest. It could be that the unnamed sources cited by DigiTimes are overstating the size of the off-brand tablet market. Maybe grossly overstating it. They say white box tablet manufacturers mainly based in the industrial cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan in southern China shipped 18 million such devices in the first half of 2012.

That's up from 10 million unit shipments in all of 2011, according to DigiTimes, but really, both of those numbers are exceedingly difficult to confirm because it's not clear if any white box tablet sellers are reporting shipment figures in any meaningful, verifiable way. The site reports that most if not all of these cheap, standardised Android tablets are being assembled by small players who formerly made netbooks a few years ago.

Still, even if the numbers being bandied about by DigiTimes seem dubious, it's not like off-brand tablets don't exist - and their low, low prices have many people wondering if it's not such a bad idea to buy one.

Image: Tested